On the Hill – Issue 11

Issue 11, September 2023, ON THE HILL, Invest. Engage. Influence.
ON THE HILL is a biannual report produced by the Division of Government and Community Relations summarizing activity at all three levels of government, as outlined by the Vanderbilt Federal Relations, State Government Relations, and Local Government Relations teams.

Vanderbilt Champions Civic Engagement

Vanderbilt has partnered with several community organizations, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and media outlets to provide opportunities for the community to become better informed about the choices they have in Nashville’s 2023 mayoral election. Read more

Through a partnership with TurboVote, Vanderbilt is providing a voting resource to the community. Visit Vanderbilt.TurboVote.org to get help with voter registration and voting by mail and to sign up for election reminders.

County-Wide Candidate Meet and Greet
Vanderbilt University held a meet and greet on Saturday, July 8, for all candidates running for a countywide seat in the Aug. 3 election. The event was a collaboration with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors and the Hillsboro-West End Neighborhood Association. More than 300 community members attended the event to speak with candidates for mayor, vice-mayor and Metro Council at-large. Read more

community members socializing at Candidate Meet and Greet in Fannie Mae Dees Park
community members socializing at Candidate Meet and Greet in Fannie Mae Dees Park
Nathan Green, Sally Parker, Eben Cathey, Kathleen Fuchs Hritz at Candidate Meet and Greet in Fannie Mae Dees Park
group photo of community members at Candidate Meet and Greet in Fannie Mae Dees Park

Nashville Business Journal Mayoral Forum at Vanderbilt
The Nashville Business Journal hosted a candidate forum at Vanderbilt University on June 6 for the Nashville mayor’s race. Candidates for the city’s top leadership role discussed Nashville’s rapid growth and other topics important to voters.

Nashville Business Journal Mayoral forum at Vanderbilt, mayoral candidates on stage
Nashville Business Journal Mayoral forum at Vanderbilt, mayoral candidates on stage

Vanderbilt Collaboration Creates Hoops and Hope on a Community Basketball Court in North Nashville

On Thursday, June 15, more than 300 families, neighbors and friends gathered to experience a vibrant addition to North Nashville. Vanderbilt University, alongside Pepsi, Hoopbus and Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation, unveiled a revamped outdoor basketball court at the “Hoops & Hope: Celebrating Black History and Community” event at Watkins Park Community Center.

Local government leaders including Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, state Sen. Charlane Oliver, and Metro Nashville Council Members Burkley Allen, Sharon Hurt, and Freddie O’Connell joined Vice Chancellors Andre’ Churchwell and Candice Storey Lee to celebrate the court opening.

The collaboration is part of a broader initiative to promote local community engagement throughout the greater Nashville area. The mural on the court honors the legacy of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball student-athlete in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace, who attended high school across the street from Watkins Park, made history when he enrolled at Vanderbilt in 1966 and broke the color barrier in the SEC. Wallace graduated from Vanderbilt in 1970. Read more

children from the North Nashville community playing basketball at Watkins Park
Aerial view of Perry Wallace memorial HOPE mural on the outdoor basketball court at Watkins Park

Campus Construction and Road Closures

Vanderbilt University has begun the early phases of construction on a group of capital projects that will transform the athletics footprint across campus. Big projects include major renovations to the football stadium and construction of a basketball practice facility, with infrastructure improvements to the surrounding landscape as well.

In compliance with Metro regulations, Vanderbilt is required to make major upgrades to public utilities and infrastructure, notably the separation of the combined stormwater/sewer line that leads to the Kerrigan basin, and replacement of public water lines.

Beginning Monday, July 17, 25th Avenue from Blakemore Avenue to Jess Neely Drive closed to vehicle traffic. The intersection at 25th Avenue and Jess Neely Drive will remain open.

Alternative routes were established around the construction for vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Read more

Nashville Mayoral Election Results

Freddie O’Connell and Alice Rolli were the top two vote-getters in August’s election, leading to the two competing in the September runoff election.

A runoff happens when no candidate reaches a 51% threshold of the total amount of votes in the mayor’s race, and the top two candidates head to a final race. O’Connell won the August election with just over 27% of the vote, and Rolli followed with 20%.

Nashville Mayor-elect at Vanderbilt's Meet the Candidates event in Fannie Mae Dees Park on July 8, 2023

The mayoral race ultimately was decided in a runoff election Thursday, Sept. 14, with O’Connell receiving just over 64% of the vote compared to Rolli’s approximately 35%.

LGR Welcomes Donovan Sheffield

The LGR team is excited to announce that Donovan Sheffield joined our division as the Local Government Relations Coordinator. Donovan previously worked in the Athletics department and will bring a unique expertise and perspective to our work engaging the city and our neighbors. Donovan is a double-dore and former student athlete, receiving a master’s degree in leadership and organizational performance and competing as a defensive back on the Commodore football team from 2015-2018. We are incredibly excited for Donovan to join our team and help strengthen relationships, expand outreach efforts, and represent Vanderbilt University to the wider community.

Donovan Sheffield stands next to a welcome sign on his first day with GCR in the Baker Building

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This monthly newsletter highlights Vanderbilt’s impact in the local community, the state of Tennessee, and beyond through stories about our work in government and community relations.

Vanderbilt Local Government Relations Team

State Update

General Assembly Completes First Regular Session

The 113th General Assembly concluded their first regular legislative session on April 21. This session was unlike any other in recent memory. It will come to be defined by unprecedented events, including the response to the tragic shooting at The Covenant School as well as the expulsion and eventual return within days of two members of the House of Representatives. While in normal circumstances the first year of a two-year General Assembly will typically stretch into May, this year the legislature moved extremely quickly and wrapped up session in a little over three months.

Exterior view of TN state capitol building at night

While Vanderbilt University values a strong, collaborative relationship between our city and the state of Tennessee, one of the significant themes of this session was the strained relationship between the General Assembly and Nashville. The basis of these disagreements can be traced back to the summer of 2022 when the Metro Council chose not to pursue a potential agreement to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. That decision received swift pushback from Republican leaders in the state and resulted in several bills being filed by the legislature that would directly impact the city.

Throughout the entire legislative session, the Vanderbilt State Government Relations team closely monitored the following bills directed solely at Nashville and worked with our local partners to advocate directly to leadership throughout the legislative process.

Size of Metro Council
The most significant legislative item impacting Nashville dealt with the size of the Metro Council (HB 48/SB 87). This bill caps the size of any metropolitan council in the state at 20 members (currently the Nashville Metro Council has 40 members). This legislation was passed in early March along party lines and was written to take effect immediately, which would have impacted the Metro elections later this year. In the days after it was passed, Nashville officials filed suit to delay its implementation, arguing that the reduction violates requirements in the state Constitution about councilmember term lengths and local control. On April 10, an injunction was granted to delay the law from taking effect. A week later, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti announced that the state would not appeal the injunction, which resulted in this year’s Metro elections continuing as planned with 40 council members.

Oversight of Nashville Music City Center
The state legislature also sought to make changes to the oversight of the Nashville Music City Center. As originally filed, the legislation (HB 1279/SB 648) would have made drastic changes to the apportionment of tax revenue generated by the convention center. In the final version that became law, it prohibits excess tax revenues remaining following the payment of debt obligations from being used for any purpose other than the payment of capital, operation, or maintenance expenses incurred by the Music City Center.

exterior view of Nashville Music City Center

State leaders passed two additional bills that made changes to Metro boards aiming to add state oversight on entities with regional impact or significant state funding.

Nashville International Airport Board
The first bill, HB 1176/SB 1326, made changes to the board overseeing the Nashville International Airport. The board now consists of two members appointed by both Speakers, two members appointed by the Governor, and two members appointed by the Mayor.

Nashville Sports Authority Board
The second bill, HB 1197/SB 1335 made changes to the Nashville Sports Authority. The board will consist of 13 members; with the Mayor appointing 7 members, the Speakers both appointing two members, and the Governor appointing 2 members. One concern was that an effective date before October 2023 could have ramifications for bonding for the new Titans stadium. Based on that feedback, the legislation was amended to clarify that the new board will not take effect until January 1, 2024.

Firearm Legislation

Every legislative session, Vanderbilt’s State Government Relations team immediately flags and tracks bills dealing with firearms. We consult the Office of General Counsel to identify bills that could change Vanderbilt’s current protections under the law that allow policies to restrict firearms on campus. Once problematic bills are identified, we coordinate with our advocacy partners to engage policymakers to defeat them or change their impact. While we tracked numerous bills on this topic, these two in particular began to move and were considered by the legislature this session:

Intent to Go Armed
HB 1385 /SB 816 sought to define the term “intent to go armed” very broadly in state law. The practical impact of this bill would have allowed individuals to carry a firearm on a greatly expanded basis, even including areas that post restrictions like Vanderbilt. We advocated strongly against this bill, and it was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Weapons on School Property
HB 977/SB 827 proposed drastic changes to firearm restriction provisions on public and private college campuses, rolling back the ability of campuses to limit what types of weapons can be carried as well as general posting policies. We advocated strongly against this bill, and it was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Special Session

On August 8, Governor Lee formally issued a call for the legislature to meet to consider public safety legislation. The Governor spent the summer meeting with legislators discussing a legislative proposal that would restrict access to firearms for individuals with mental health concerns. While he had hoped to pursue this legislation during the session, it was not included among the over 100 bills that were filed.

view of TN legislature in session

From the opening days of the special session, The House of Representatives and the Senate were at an impasse on what items they would like to pass. The Senate was adamant that they would only consider the three bills that the Governor proposed and nothing else. Those items included legislation that strengthens the process for background checks for firearms, eliminating the sales tax for firearm safes and other gun safety items, and a new reporting requirement for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding human trafficking crimes in the state. The Senate committees only heard and advanced those bills as well as a funding bill during the first week, while the House committees considered and passed nearly 35 bills.

Following lengthy negotiations over the weekend following the first week, House and Senate leadership reached an agreement. The deal reached between the chambers was focused on budget items and did not result in any new legislation being considered beyond the three items in Governor Lee’s legislative agenda.

The final budget included:

  • Increased spending for mental health positions
  • Additional funding for K-12 school security upgrades
  • Funds for a gun safety public service campaign
  • $30 million for security upgrades for public and private higher education institutions

The legislature quickly passed these items and adjourned the special session eight days after it began.

The special session certainly had its share of high-profile moments. When the House of Representatives changed their rules to prohibit signs being held by members of the public, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin ruled against the prohibition days later. House Democrats left session the first night in protest to a member being ruled out of order. Following the actual adjournment, there was an altercation among members (including House Speaker Cameron Sexton) in the House chamber.

State Funding Secured for TN GO Initiative

During the 2023 regular legislative session, the State Government Relations team worked with the Lee administration and the Tennessee General Assembly to secure $5 million for the TN GO initiative. Vanderbilt collaborated with advocacy partners from the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

TN GO is designed to increase Tennessee’s standing as an automotive industry leader by connecting our state’s unique mobility and transportation assets, advancing rapid development and deployment of future technologies, and attracting new investments. The state’s investment will draw private and federal dollars.

The goal of this program is for TN GO to become the state’s front door for transportation R&D innovation by providing a platform to connect assets across Tennessee. The program will develop innovative solutions, train the future automotive workforce, and maximize the state’s mobility investments.

This ongoing partnership results from strong collaboration between the Division of Government and Community Relations and the Office of Research and Innovation.

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The State Report provides summaries of news items to inform our internal Vanderbilt partners of state policy developments that impact the university.

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Vanderbilt State Government Relations Team

Federal Update

Chancellor Diermeier Advocates for VU Priorities with Federal Delegation

Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier met with members of Congress during a July visit to Washington, D.C., to advocate for federal investments in research and higher education. Facilitated by the Office of Federal Relations, Diermeier met with several Republican members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Sen. Bill Hagerty, BA’81, JD’84, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Rep. David Kustoff.

Diermeier urged Congress to robustly fund federal research and student aid programs, which are vital to our nation’s economic competitiveness and national security. Diermeier also highlighted Vanderbilt’s significant contributions to building the innovation ecosystem in Tennessee, especially in the automotive industry. Following the meetings, he hosted a congressional reception at the U.S. Capitol to honor members of the Tennessee congressional delegation and as part of the university’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and Vice Chancellor Nathan Green meet with Sen. Marsha Blackburn in Washington, D.C.
Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier speaking at a congressional reception in Washington, D.C.

In his remarks, Diermeier emphasized Vanderbilt’s vital role in the longstanding partnership between the federal government and leading research universities. He expressed gratitude for the federal funding that enables universities like Vanderbilt to address urgent and complex challenges facing society and make groundbreaking discoveries.

Vanderbilt’s congressional reception is a signature event on Capitol Hill that brings together university leadership, members and staff from the Tennessee congressional delegation, Vanderbilt alumni working on Capitol Hill, and strategic partners involved in the university’s government relations work in Washington. The reception also serves as an opportunity to welcome and honor new members of the Tennessee congressional delegation.

Overall, the visit and reception provided valuable opportunities for Vanderbilt to strengthen its ties with Congress, advocate for its institutional priorities, and demonstrate the importance of federal support for research and student aid.

Rep. Mark Green Visits Vanderbilt

Congressman Mark Green visiting with School of Medicine students and the Bass Military Scholars.
Congressman Mark Green visiting with School of Medicine students and the Bass Military Scholars.

In August, Rep. Mark Green (R-TN07) visited Vanderbilt University to meet with Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and participate in discussions with School of Medicine students and Bass Military Scholars. Green’s blend of experiences as a veteran, physician, business owner and congressman affords him a unique perspective on public policy, which he shared with the students.

Rep. Mark Green stands next to Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier during his visit to campus in August
Congressman Mark Green visiting with School of Medicine students and the Bass Military Scholars.

Chancellor Diermeier highlighted Vanderbilt’s commitment to national security research and military engagement, including the SkillBridge program, renewed Yellow Ribbon commitment, and the Pathfinder-Air Assault research partnership with Fort Campbell. During his time with School of Medicine students, Green emphasized the importance of public service in healthcare, noting that physicians’ involvement in public policy is critical for understanding its impact on patients. Green also met with Bass Military Scholars, who shared how the program and Vanderbilt have aided their career aspirations. Read more

Showcasing VU to Congressional Staff

OFR coordinated and hosted congressional staff from the offices of Republican Tennessee Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty and Rep. Mark Green on campus earlier this year.

Each of these visits afforded congressional staff a sense of the breadth and depth of Vanderbilt’s research expertise and the role of federal research funding in supporting that work, our connections with partners across the state of Tennessee, and how Vanderbilt is working to address the workforce needs of the state.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn Staff Visit
Staff for Sen. Blackburn were on campus to learn about some of Vanderbilt’s NSF-funded research and the university’s commitment to fostering innovation at The Wond’ry and through the Vanderbilt-led Mid-South I-Corps Hub.

Sen. Bill Hagerty Staff Visit
Defense and Appropriations staff from Sen. Hagerty’s (R-TN) office visited Vanderbilt’s LASIR Lab for an overview of and update on Dept. of Defense-funded research activities through the Pathfinder-Air Assault program. The visit demonstrated the breadth and depth of Vanderbilt’s expertise, our connections with Fort Campbell, the University of Tennessee, and other partners in the state, and our impact on innovation, industry, and collaboration across Tennessee.

Rep. Mark Green Staff Visit
Senior staff from Rep. Mark Green’s (R-TN) office visited campus for a high-level overview of federally funded research and workforce development activities including the work of the Institute for Software Integrated SystemsInstitute for Space and Defense Electronics, the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, smart mobility research, and various programs at The Wond’ry, including the Mid-South I-Corps Hub.

Advocating for Vanderbilt Priorities

The first half of the year typically sees many Vanderbilt senior administrators, faculty, staff, and students participating in congressional advocacy efforts. This year marked the return of fully in-person fly-in days since 2020. Highlights this year have included:

Funding for Research

  • Dean FauchetEngineering: Associate Director Heather Bloemhard arranged for then-Dean of Engineering Philippe Fauchet and four colleagues from other Tennessee schools of engineering to meet with Tennessee congressional offices as part of the annual engineering deans’ public policy colloquium. The deans discussed the role of our institutions in supporting the workforce and economic development of the state and the importance of federal funding to enable these programs. Dean Fauchet highlighted, among other things, our partnerships that leverage Tennessee’s competitive advantage in automotive and electric-vehicle-related manufacturing. Read more
  • Education and Human Development: Associate Vice Chancellor West; Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development; and Vice Dean Ellen Goldring advocated for education research funded through the Institute of Education Science in coordination with the LEARN Coalition, which Dean Benbow co-chairs.
  • Humanities: AD Bloemhard; Elizabeth Meadows, associate director of the Robert Penn Warren Center; and two undergraduate students advocated for the research and education programs funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. VU is a sponsor of the annual National Humanities Alliance Advocacy DayRead more


  • STEM: Supported by OFR, four graduate students in STEM disciplines participated in the AAAS Catalyzing Advocacy in Scientists and Engineering (CASE) workshop, which provided students with the opportunity to learn more about science policy and advocacy.
  • Nursing: AVC West and Pamela Jeffries, Dean, Vanderbilt School of Nursing, advocated for nursing workforce development programs to address the nursing shortage, including the need to address the shortage of nursing faculty and clinical preceptors.
  • Federal Student Aid:
    • AVC Christina West participated in TICUA-led meetings in conjunction with the NAICU Annual Meeting to advocate for Pell Grants and federal student aid programs.
    • AVC West; Brent Tener, Executive Director of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships; and Heather Boutell, Associate Director of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, advocated for the federal student aid programs, highlighting Opportunity Vanderbilt, the role of federal loans at the graduate/professional level, and OFR’s college access and affordability one-pager.

College Athletics
Vice Chancellor Nathan Green, AVC West, Athletic Director Candice Lee, Coach Clark Lea, and Coach Shea Ralph participated in the SEC Day on the Hill to advocate for federal legislation related to college athletics and name, image, and likeness. In August, Vanderbilt hosted Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who met with Vice Chancellor Nathan Green and Athletic Director Candice Storey Lee to discuss issues related to college athletics and proposed federal legislation.

Nathan Green, Coach Lea, Candice Lee, Coach Ralph, and Christina West standing outside the U.S. Capitol building
Candice Lee, Marsha Blackburn, and VC Nathan Green pose for a photo during Sen. Blackburn's visit to Vanderbilt in August

AD Bloemhard, Registrar Bart Quinet and Julie Wilbers, Director of ISSS, met Tennessee congressional offices to discuss VU’s community of international students and scholars and the potential for congressional action to streamline the immigration policies they must navigate. Emphasis was placed on the need for federal policies that support our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest from around the world.

FY 2024 Funding Outlook for Research and Higher Ed

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 appropriations process has been rife with even more partisanship than usual. While most of the controversy isn’t specific to federal support for research or federal student aid, the debate has had spillover impacts – including on research agency funding aimed at broadening participation and some specific types of research targeted for cuts. The funding provided for Vanderbilt priorities in each of the House and Senate bills (summarized in the table below) are quite different largely because the House wrote their bills assuming a lower overall spending level – with some Republicans pushing for even deeper cuts.

Over the coming weeks and months, Congress will aim to finish their consideration of these bills and arrive at a compromise agreement to fund the government. In the meantime, Congress must pass a stopgap spending measure by September 30 to prevent a government shutdown, the odds for which are larger than in recent years given the current political dynamics.

U.S. Senate Honors Vanderbilt’s Sesquicentennial

On July 11, 2023, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN), BA’81, JD’84, introduced Senate Resolution 288 to honor Vanderbilt University’s Sesquicentennial, celebrating 150 years of academic excellence and contributions to the state and nation. The resolution was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on July 26. It commends Vanderbilt for its dedication to fostering innovation, advancing knowledge, and empowering generations of students. Read more

The full text of the resolution can be found here.

photos of Daniel Diermeier with Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty

Quick Notes

Vanderbilt Law Professor Testifies Before Senate on Crypto Meltdown
Sen. Bill Hagerty with Yesha Yadav at the Senate Banking Committee hearing on the Crypto Crash Feb. 14Yesha Yadav, who holds the Milton R. Underwood Chair, was one of three financial regulation experts asked to testify in a full committee hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Feb. 14. OFR provided support and guidance to Yadav before and during the hearing, including notifying Sen. Hagerty, who sits on the committee, of her participation and facilitating an introduction. Read more

The PRECEPT Nurses Act
OFR worked with Sen. Blackburn’s office on legislation that would provide a tax credit to individuals who serve as a nurse preceptor. At OFR and VUSN Dean Pam Jeffries’ urging, Blackburn co-led the bill which also aligns with Blackburn’s new role on the Senate Finance Committee.

Honoring Vanderbilt Bowling
OFR worked to secure an invitation for the women’s bowling team to the White House’s June 12 “College athlete day.” OFR also coordinated a congressional record statement by Sen. Bill Hagerty honoring the team.Vanderbilt Bowling team group photo in front of White House in Washington, D.C.

West Concludes NAICU Board Service
AVC West concluded three years of service on the National Association for Independent Colleges and Universities Board of Directors.

OFR Hosts Summer Intern
Chase Mandell, a rising Vanderbilt senior pursuing a degree in political science, joined OFR in Washington, DC for a summer internship. Mandell supported a range of OFR projects, providing him with valuable hands-on experience in higher education and research advocacy at the federal level.

Chase Mandell

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DCbrief is the Office of Federal Relations’ e-newsletter that provides timely, concise summaries of news items to inform Vanderbilt faculty and staff of federal policy developments that impact the university and the higher education community. DCbrief is a near-daily publication when Congress is in session.

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Office Hours
The Office of Federal Relations held two office hour sessions on campus earlier this year, inviting faculty and staff to join an informal conversation with the OFR team. The goal of OFR office hours is to provide another connection point between the federal relations team and the Vanderbilt community to discuss federal policy issues and answer questions in an informal setting. OFR will host its next office hour on Wednesday, September 27th, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at 104 Godchaux Hall. OFR hopes to host more of these conversations in the future.

Vanderbilt Federal Relations Team